You, Robot!

Technically, that Dinobot isn't even a dinosaur.  @#$% poser.

Technically, that Dinobot isn’t even a dinosaur. @#$% poser.

So…lets get this out of the way first. Pteranodons, pterodactyls, and so forth? Not dinosaurs. You don’t like hearing it, and I don’t like having to be the one to tell you, but just like building up muscle builds up mass…it’s a STRAIGHT UP FACT, bro.

Pteranodon was not a dinosaur. By definition, all dinosaurs belong to the groups Saurischia and Ornithischia, which exclude pterosaurs. Nevertheless, Pteranodon is frequently featured in dinosaur books and is strongly associated with dinosaurs by the general public. Just to add to the newsflash, current scientific consensus is that this group (dinosaurs) excludes the pterosaurs, as well as the various groups of extinct marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs. All those things…not dinosaurs either.

Bringing me to Transformers 4, which I have avoided seeing. Being very direct, I saw the first Transformers, and have failed to see the subsequent ones. Mostly because the first didn’t make much sense. I saw this massive image of Optimus Prime riding a robot dinosaur when I went to the the X-Men flick…and it failed to capture my imagination. There are several reasons why, but I will begin with the first.

Why the @#$% would a robot transform into a dinosaur? Like…at all?

According to the animated series in the 80’s, The Dinobots were modeled after the dinosaur fossils that Ironhide found in the volcanic caves near the Ark. Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge were built first. Built on Earth by Wheeljack and Ratchet, the Dinobots were a subgroup of Autobots with great physical power but very limited intelligence. Early on in the cartoon they are played as very dangerous (though dim) wildcards, whose great power makes them a huge advantage to the Autobots when they can be persuaded to cooperate.After some initial troubles, their performance pleased Optimus Prime enough that he had two more built, adding Snarl and Swoop to the ranks.

Let’s make this clear…two of the smartest Autobots made them, intentionally designing them for massive power, and limited intellect. Not clever.

The Marvel comic didn’t give much better origins. The Dinobots in the Marvel comic were not created on Earth, as in the cartoon, but were a distinct and pre-existing unit of five Autobot soldiers who were aboard the Ark when it crashed to Earth. The comic Dinobots, while not exactly Perceptor-grade, were significantly more intelligent than their cartoon counterparts. (Their commander, Grimlock, served as overall Autobot Commander on more than one occasion.) However, they were not as strong as their cartoon counterparts, either.

Shortly after the crash, the Ark’s computer detected Shockwave landing on the planet in the Antarctic land-out-of-time that would one day become known as the Savage Land. The Ark used the last of its capabilities to revive these five warriors and rebuild them to transform into the Savage Land’s dominant lifeform: dinosaurs. They were then dispatched to deal with the Decepticon, where they sank to the bottom of a tar pit and remained dormant until Ratchet revived them in the 1980s.

So…that at least gives us a more legit reason for them turning into dinosaurs, as well as making them more intelligent. The “dimwitted Hulk like thugs” of the animated series can be hard to take.

Still…these are robot dinosaurs. The two greatest enemies of humanity (if I can trust movies) consolidated into a class action suit of violence like no others. Dinosaurs made out of metal with LASERS. I don’t even like that someone had that as an idea. So incredibly dangerous.

Robots have dominated a large amount of my weekend. On Saturday, I spent some considerable time in the morning, setting up this very computer to run an AI that could be transmitted to a Lego Mindstorms NXT ‘bot. The Mindstorms ‘bot has a twin in Austin Texas, which at this point is surprisingly more functional

It turns out that this computer’s bluetooth is reluctant to acknowledge the NXT Brick (the ‘bot’s Central Nervous System, if you will) on the appropriate COM port. So…I managed to download and install all of the software…and the ‘bot does its demo really well…

…but I literally get a COM failure every single time the ‘bot tried to speak to its own BRAIN. That’s a problem.

In addition, the NXT Brick is pretty old. I didn’t so much clear its Memory, so it sort of spontaneously runs old programs, and time it hazily makes some kind of bluetooth or wi-fi acknowledgement. This is jarring, when you don’t expect the small robot to just make musical noises and run around a bit on it’s big black knobby wheels.

The introduction of a simple bluetooth adapter to this netbook should eliminate that, and introduce new problems.

Still…everything went way better than I thought it would. Despite long download times, and the need for some patching, the AI package was easy to install, and system compatible. Compatible to a system that the programmer had no specs for, meaning the ability to run on pretty much any Windows/MS device is there. Also, the ‘bot, which I was a little worried about in terms of functionality, didn’t fail to do as told, except for the connection. It checks out for functions.

I did not expect that. The little ‘bot has been through a lot, including multiple job interviews. No joke.

This is far more impressive looking than the actual process of robotics.

This is far more impressive looking than the actual process of robotics.

It’s rare that I make a Star Trek reference, despite being a pretty severe Trekkie. Being honest, Trek doesn’t lend itself to humor very well, more of a somber, cerebral introspection in general. I was reminded of the episode from The Next Generation, “The Offspring.” In that, Data basically builds himself a daughter, who is charming and friendly. The Enterprise is too stimulating for her still forming Holotronic Brain, so she suffers a fatal “cascade failure.” That’s when one error leads to another, leading to another, and the system shuts down, losing all your data.

Not good when that’s your brain.

I was expecting that sort of problem, or the ominous words, “Unexpected End of File: CORE DUMPED.” I wasn’t all that happy with bluetooth not being recognized, but that’s a small problem by comparison. My ‘bot isn’t nearly so useful or adorable as Lal, Data’s daughter, but she seemed appropriate for the illustration. Eagle eyed people will note that our hero is wearing Data’s casual suit from the final episode, “All Good Things.”

The bluetooth adapter should come tomorrow, rendering my bot able to autonomously get trapped in a loop of clapping it’s gripper appendage, or get lost inside of small closets, like the one in Austin.

A virtual parent can dream.

Next Issue: DC Sketch Cover Madness…Superman!


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